BIG ROCK — It was easy to stare in wonder at the fire creeping up a local landmark Thursday morning. No homes were threatened and the cool, damp weather seemed to keep the flames down to a slow smolder.
The first call about the fire at Big Rock, a rocky promontory more than 500 feet high, came in at around 2 a.m., said Mount Vernon Fire Chief Roy Hari. Firefighters from Big Lake and Clear Lake fire stations responded, but the rocky, steep terrain prevented much work from being done overnight.
By mid-morning Thursday, a Department of Natural Resources fire crew of four from Sedro-Woolley were stationed between the fire on the north side of the rock and the homes in the Skagit Highlands development to the south, said Jim Cahill, a DNR incident commander.
The crew was digging a fire line along the ridge to better protect homes in Skagit Highlands, he said, noting this isn’t the first blaze they’ve battled this year, including a small one near Day Creek just two nights ago.
“We’ve seen a lot of the fires be human caused,” Cahill said.
Cahill said the Big Rock fire covered about two acres. Patches of smoke wafted up from areas surrounding the site. Occasionally a flare up would consume a small tree. For the most part, the fire stayed in the dead trees and forest understory covering the rock, said Brian Adams, Skagit County parks director.
“The dead snags are burning there now. We are going to lose a lot of these trees,” Adams said.
Fire crews staged in the Big Rock Cafe and Grocery parking lot, and the state Department of Transportation temporarily closed Highway 9 east of the roundabout to Mount Vernon-Big Lake Road.
While the cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, Hari speculated it might have been from a campfire.
DNR called in a helicopter from Wenatchee to fight the blaze. It dropped water onto the area’s steep hillsides 300 gallons at a time.
Big Rock is a popular, though illicit, spot for day hikers and mountain bikers, Adams said. The rock is owned by Skagit County and maintained by its parks department, but it’s not technically open to the public because it lacks safe and legal access, Adams said.
Adams said a parks crew was at Big Rock on Wednesday to clean up graffiti in the area and removed some fire pits along the way. Adams and other parks employees brought in topographical maps Thursday for use by the fire crews.
Mount Vernon Fire Battalion Chief Mike Voss said another fire on the rock happened sometime in the mid-1990s. DNR fire crews are cleaning up the old fire line, he said.
“Their plan is to box it in and hold it,” Voss said.